Life in the Modern Middle East

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  • 0:03 Modern Middle East
  • 0:31 Turkey
  • 2:12 Israel
  • 3:42 Lebanon
  • 5:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Societies in the Middle East have developed along very different paths, even in the past 100 years. This lesson takes a look at how Turkey, Israel, and Lebanon developed into the states they are today.

The Modern Middle East

There are few better demonstrations of how the Middle East possesses such diverse societies than looking at the ways that the states of the region developed. This lesson takes a look at the development of three countries: Turkey, Israel, and Lebanon, that have particularly unique societies, and as a result, have developed particularly unique governments and civil societies. In fact, all three even approach the idea of democracy in different ways.


Turkey is unique among Middle Eastern countries in how relatively similar to European countries it is. In fact, the Turks have made it a goal to join the European Union! However, any visit to Turkey, especially outside of Istanbul and the Aegean coast, and it is very clear that this is a Middle Eastern country as well. Turkey's government is one the most stable democracies in the Middle East, having been founded in the 1920s by Mustafa Kemal, better known by his nickname, Ataturk.

Turkey had once been the center of the massive Ottoman Empire, and as a result, had once ruled over many different ethnic groups. Those ethnic groups revolted against the Ottomans during World War I, and in the Turkish mindset, were a major part of the reason that the Ottoman Empire was defeated. As a result, the Turks at the end of that war wanted nothing to do with anyone else. The new Turkey would be a country for Turks.

This idea of protecting Turkishness has been the job of the Turkish Army. On multiple occasions has the Turkish Army stood up to protect the state against politicians that would cheapen that Turkishness. However, unlike other coups, the Turkish Army is quick to restore power to a democratically-elected body. Still, preserving Turkishness in the face of all else has its costs. This has led to severe problems with Turkey's minority groups, especially the Kurds, who are very insistent that they are Kurds, not Turks. That said, movements for Kurdish independence have started to fade in favor of more autonomy within Turkey.


Like Turkey, Israel too had a national identity to protect. However, far from being an ethnic one, Israel's was a religious identity. Born from the depths of the Holocaust, Israel was to be a homeland for Jews from around the world. In fact, much of the reason that the Israelis speak Hebrew today was to prevent inherent advantages from Jews from one part of the world over another! While the Turks may have wanted to avoid another war, Israel has been plagued with invasions since literally the day after it declared itself as a state. Somehow, Israel managed to fight back invaders on multiple occasions, all while creating a society that is both welcoming to new immigrants but also focused on its Jewish principles.

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